Why, Oh Why? Melamine in Infant Formula?

(Editor’s Note: With “healthcare reform” beginning to gather steam (see previous posts at IA on the subject), an equally important area of concern involving health and safety issues involves the FDA and who may be appointed to head this department.  See here for a rundown from the  Washington Post on the problems the agency faces and a list of possible candidates being considered by the Obama Transition Team.–InsightAnalytical-GRL)

~~By kenosha Marge

I’ve been following the story about melamine in infant formula. It just seemed so indicative of our dysfunctional government that a toxic substance would be in a substance that we should insist be as close to100% safe as could possibly be achieved. Isn’t the FDA there to protect our children and us? Shouldn’t they be leading the charge to ensure that standard? They would if we had a government agency that protects and serves the people of this country and not the corporations.

I learned that melamine is sometimes illegally added to food products in order to increase the apparent protein content. I learned that there are tests that estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content, so they can be misled by adding nitrogen-rich compounds such as melamine. Oh yummy! High protein and sticks to your ribs too.

Ingestion of melamine may lead to reproductive damage or bladder or kidney stones, which can lead to bladder cancer. Is that a chance most parents would want to take with their babies? Probably not but then they would have to be aware of the problem before they could get all irate about it wouldn’t they? And then they would have to disbelieve the FDA which now says, “nothing to worry about here”.

A short time ago federal food regulators said they were unable to set a safety threshold for the industrial chemical melamine in baby formula. Now, however, they found a way to settle on a standard that allows for higher levels than those found in U.S.-made batches of the product. It’s perfectly logical if you believe that what was bad last week isn’t bad this week. It’s perfectly logical if you believe the FDA knows what the hell it’s talking about or if you think they give a crap about the safety of the citizens, and their babies, of this or any other country.

Food and Drug Administration officials set a threshold of 1 part per million of melamine in formula, provided a related chemical is not present. They insisted the formulas are safe. Because saying that the formula was not safe would be bad for business don’t you know, and that’s the FDA’s real concern.

The Associated Press reported that FDA tests found traces of melamine in the infant formula of one major U.S. manufacturer and cyanuric acid, a chemical relative, in the formula of a second major maker. The contaminated samples, which both measured at levels below the new standard, were analyzed several weeks ago.

What exactly is melamine? Before I get nuts about it perhaps I should know a little more about what I’m discussing. After all, it’s only infant formula and how important can that be?

Let’s see: Melamine is an organic base and a trimer of cyanamide, with a 1,3,5-triazine skeleton. Like cyanamide, it contains 66% nitrogen by mass and, if mixed with resins, has fire retardant properties due to its release of nitrogen gas when burned or charred, and has several other industrial uses.

I am not a chemist. I do not understand a whole lot about about chemicals. All I know is that there are a whole lot of them I do not want to find in food. Particularly in infant formula. Who knew we needed a fire retardant in infant formula? Has there been a rash of infant formula fires I didn’t hear about?

Let’s try the wisegeek. Hmm, wisegeek says: “Melamine is an organic compound that is often combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin, a synthetic polymer which is fire resistant and heat tolerant. Melamine resin is a very versatile material with a highly stable structure. Uses for melamine include whiteboards, floor tiles, kitchenware, fire retardant fabrics, and commercial filters. Melamine can be easily molded while warm, but will set into a fixed form. This property makes it ideally suited to certain industrial applications.”

I don’t know about anyone else but the idea of something that is used to make floor tiles being inside infant formula disturbs me. I used to eat off of melamine dishes. The idea of ingesting them never occurred to me. Nor anyone else I know.

No need to worry because our every vigilant FDA is once again lagging to the rescue and sorting out all the brouhaha.

The Food and Drug Administration was formed in 1901 as the Bureau of Chemistry. Then in 1927 it became the Food Drug and Insecticide Administration. The word insecticide somehow got dropped along the way and we have our current champions, the FDA. Their headquarters are at 5600 Fishers Lane in Rockville, Maryland. They have about 9300 employees and an annual budget of $2.3 billion. The commissioner and politician in charge is Andrew von Eschenbach. Their parent agency is the Department of Health and Human Services.

These people have a budget of $2.3 billion and they can’t guarantee the safety of infant formula? Oh wait, they just tell us it is safe to have one of the ingredients for floor tile and kitchenware in infant formula. This is the agency that is supposed to protect the foods we eat and the medications we take. Perhaps I am being alarmist when I just don’t think having an ingredient for floor tile in baby formula is a good thing. Maybe I’m just a tad picky about what chemicals my great-granddaughter might be ingesting when I give her a bottle.

A more naïve me used to believe that the FDA would protect the citizenry and ensure that their foods and drugs were safe. It has now my belief that every agency in Washington D.C. is all about protecting corporations from their many and egregious assaults on the public health. When does corruption cross over into depraved indifference as they say on Law and Order?

Many of us are told that we are slobs and it’s our fault that we aren’t healthy cause we don’t eat right and don’t exercise and oh, by the way, it’s quite all right to feed your baby floor tile. Non-fat and no sugar! Hooray. And you won’t find that at a Fast Food drive through. Or maybe it’s in the food there too. Oh my.

What to do, what to do? Go graze in a nearby field? Chomp on the bark of a tree? Or are they saturated with pesticides that contain chemicals that will make rot us from the inside out?

The one thing you can safely count on is that your government will do nothing to protect you and everything it can to protect the corporations that are poisoning you and your children. Because the corporations got the money and the power and we/you/me don’t. That is ultimately why the FDA is telling us that certain levels of melamine are not harmful in infant formula. The question is, how many of us believe them?